St. Patrick’s Day American Style: Why Do We Drink So Much?

St. Patrick’s Day and green beer. While shamrocks, bag pipes, and corned beef all take center stage during the annual celebration of all things Irish, drinking—with a notable nod to green beer—has become the focal point of our Irish celebrations. According National Geographic, 4.2 billion pints worldwide, to be exact.

So why do we associate the patron saint of Ireland with the need to overindulge?

In the U.S., it may be thanks to the New Yorkers. While Bostonians were the first to formalize a day to honor the Irish immigrants dominating that city’s population, it was the late 1700s when New York’s celebration of everything green became entrenched in the city’s culture. Nearly 100 years later, Protestants, Catholics, and non-Irish alike were no longer going to church and dining with family, they were celebrating the largest parade in the world in honor of St. Patrick. After all, the Irish are rumored to be a celebratory bunch.

As part of our 200k Insight Series, where we look at some of the behavioral trends of the 215,000 alcohol offenders we’ve monitored to-date, we did a historical analysis of drinking violations during the week of St. Patrick’s Day.

What we found was, on average, a 10% increase in violations during St. Patty’s week. But when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekend, drinking more than doubles—a 25% spike in drinking violations. And those numbers are for individuals who know they will be caught. And they know there will be criminal consequences. No luck of the Irish to fall back on.

St. Patrick’s Day has become one of the most difficult days of the year for law enforcement, and one of the most dangerous for communities nationwide. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween are the two days of the year with the highest rate of DUI arrests. And MADD reports that the day consistently falls at the top of the list for the rate of alcohol-involved traffic fatalities.

Americans are in good company with their alcohol-centric celebrations. Buenos Aires has transformed the day into a 24-hour street party. Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada rejoice in similar fashion. Even Tokyo began an official St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1992. Around the world, Irish festivals last from a weekend to an entire month. “Copious” amounts of alcohol are tradition in virtually every version of the celebration.

We wish you a happy, and safe, St. Patrick’s Day. Call a cab, call a friend, designate a sober driver. Be safe and responsible this weekend.

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